Leading article: Our role in closing Guantanamo

Share
Related Topics

Some 255 prisoners are held without charge in Guantanamo Bay detention centre. Barack Obama's commitment to close the facility is one of the most important, symbolic elements of his agenda as president-elect. It represents the rejection of a disreputable element of US foreign policy. Asked by Time magazine about criteria by which he would measure his success in office, Mr Obama said: "On foreign policy, have we closed Guantanamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our constitution?"

Guantanamo has become shorthand for giving the rule of law short shrift and riding roughshod over the Geneva Convention. It has also become associated with practices incompatible with civilised values. Its very location was a means of circumventing protections afforded by the US constitution. And the use of torture – the only honest description of the simulated drowning known as waterboarding – to extract testimony from prisoners would unquestionably be condemned by the US were it practised in other countries. Closing Guantanamo would represent a commitment to the rule of law.

It should also be a signal that the "war on terror" is not an end that justifies any means. As Rupert Cornwell reports today, there are already some worrying indications that President Bush may pardon those within the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the White House who authorised coercive interrogation in Guantanamo, and those who used it. That would be an indication that individuals are not responsible for their actions. It would also undermine US attempts to buttress the principle of accountability elsewhere in the world, not least in war crimes tribunals.

Barack Obama has raised almost impossible hopes, and one of them has been for a new kind of world order in which the rule of law will hold, in which there is some congruence between US rhetoric and US actions, in which America can be an exemplar of respect for the rights of individuals. Closing Guantanamo is just the start of that wider endeavour, and it should have Britain's wholehearted support.

This country's tacit acceptance of "extraordinary rendition" by the US was a sin of omission at the very least. The lack of curiosity shown by senior ministers about the provenance of much US intelligence will surely return to haunt them.

What to do then with the Guantanamo prisoners is a relatively small question, though one that could have been designed to stoke popular resentment at the prospect of Britain taking any of them. Some detainees cannot be returned home either because of reluctance on the part of those countries to have them, or because of fears that they could be tortured on their return.

The British Government is reported to be in negotiations about the possibility of taking some of them here. Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general who negotiated the return of British detainees, has said that Britain should accept some of the prisoners if that would help to close the facility. It would be, he said, in the country's self-interest because Guantanamo was damaging Britain, having become "a recruiting agent for terrorism".

It has indeed, and we should never say never. But this is not of itself an argument for this country to take on detainees who have no connection with this country. This is a problem made in America, and America must deal with its consequences.

Britain, given its solidarity with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, has no need to curry favour with Barack Obama. His election delighted Britain; he knows as much. Unlike some of America's European allies – Germany, to name just one – Britain has put its troops in harm's way as part of the US-led alliance in the region. In the overall scheme of things, the US needs Britain, not least for Mr Obama's forthcoming surge in Afghanistan.

In any event, what needs to be questioned seriously is just why it is unsafe for detainees to be returned to their own countries. Do we have to accept as a fact of life in this new world order that prisoners are routinely tortured in detention? Yemen has accepted Osama bin Laden's driver, to serve his sentence at home.

The US does have considerable political and economic clout in the region, and under the new administration it will have more. It could use that influence to ensure that prisoners returned to their home countries will not be abused in detention or on release. Otherwise, it should provide ex-detainees with a home, protection and an identity for themselves and their families in the US; that is the minimum price America must pay for Guantanamo.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager / Sales - UK New Business

£24000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Under the current rate of progress, the UK will only reduce its carbon emissions by 21- 23 per cent between 2013 and 2025  

The Government's cosy relationship with big energy companies is killing thousands of people

Zachary Boren
 

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific